Chatting with friends, video games almost always come up. Given that they were such large parts of our lives back in the day and still a sizable portion my daily life now, it seems inevitable from the vantage point of Logic Peak. My friends still game, but to a much lesser degree. We still find common ground to stand on, though, and talk shop. Nostalgia is usually a popular topic, as are games that were new four to six months ago (they rarely buy anything unless it’s on sale).
I noticed something, though, in this temporal dichotomy. In fact, that alone may be a misnomer; time is not the only thing that separates our binary states of gaming. Our younger years are defined by something totally different from the present day. They are not even close to being comparable and almost seem to be at odds with one another. It’s the sense of discovery and the surgical precision of doctored moments.
As a child, I’m sure you felt the same way I did going outside: everything was an adventure. Every day, my domain reached just a little further, but it was never enough. I would charge to the frontier and just go. First it was the end of the street where there was the beginnings of a park. Then it was the middle of a wooded clearing. Then it was beyond the cultivated grass and into the trees beyond the neighborhood. Every step in unknown territory was a discovery, and every one before the uncharted was equally awe-inspiring.
It was how I felt when I played games at that age. When the sun went down or it was raining enough for my mom to glare at me every time I even thought about going outside with the subconscious goal of tracking mud on the freshly cleaned carpet, I would stay inside and play games, and it was as if I was still exploring the world. It was startlingly analogous. Mario’s World 1-1 was my door-to-curb. Kirby, whenever he would step through another door and enter a new realm, was every time I turned a corner in my neighborhood. Link used his hookshot and boomerang to navigate his puzzling environment while I resorted to fallen trees and running jumps to clear my obstacles.
I still remember playing The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. It was the Christmas afternoon and I had played since I woke up extra, extra early to open up what I was sure to be The Best Present Ever and spend the rest of my life dedicated to unraveling its mysteries. I had just gained access to the castle and, being the dopey video game player I was, was dicking around. Rolling, jumping, swording. The only thing I didn’t want to do was nothing. And then I stumbled up a wall.
It was the mass of green that was supposed to represent some sort of insurmountable boundary—a visible invisible wall—but hemmed into the world as a landmark feature. And I had somehow gone up. Just a little, but it was enough. Slowly but surely, I spent the next hour exploring this one little corner of the world, poking and prodding to see where I could and couldn’t go. I’d fall through the world, I’d get stuck in the geometry, and I’d fall all the way down again, but nothing deterred me because the sense of exploring something was so strong in that instance. It was unknown, and I had to know.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed myself exploring less and less. I’m still irresponsibly incapable of not looking down alternate paths to check for collectibles, but that’s not exploring; that’s hunting. The mere act of being somewhere new is no longer what interests me. When I encounter a glitch now, I’ll tinker with it for maybe a minute or two, and move on. Human nature dictates that my curiosity be piqued, but no longer does my childhood wonderment add fuel to the fire.
Nowadays, it’s the cultivated moment that defines my gaming experiences. That little moment of The Ocarina of Time will stick in my mind for the rest of my life (I can still recall every single second as if it had just happened), but the things that stick with me now are Moments. When the building collapses in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves or when you throw the knife at the end of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare or when the wound-up, tangled thread of Spec Ops: The Line is laid flat before you, those are the moments I remember now.
Even the most exploratory game of the modern generation couldn’t buck the trend. In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, when you first step out into the world from the underground caves, it’s not a sense of exploration but a very deliberate and predetermined effort at a moment. It’s the same as when you first step out of the vault in Fallout 3. These are giant worlds that are open to be explored and poked and prodded and yet the things I remember about those games are the two calculated moments of scale-inspired awe.
That change opens up some interesting questions, though. Or rather, one interesting question and a whole slew of implications: why?
Maybe it’s because I’m an old fart now and my imagination has gone the way of my baby teeth and former desire to throw bugs girls. Maybe it’s because game design has changed in the modern era from open-ended worlds to linearly guided experiences. Has cinematic flair made the full transfer to gaming? Or maybe I’m just Carl Fredricksen, waiting for my sense of adventure to find me again, for the walk down my driveway to feel like running across Hyrule. For everything to be new again.
I can see why Columbus did it.